The Highland Village (Baile nan Gàidheal) is the perfect place to learn about the history of the Gaelic culture and heritage in Nova Scotia. Nestled on 45-acres overlooking the gorgeous Bras d'Or lake, the Highland Village features a living museum where costumed animators will tell you the story of the Gaelic Scots that came to Nova Scotia and how they adapted and flourished in their new home.
The buildings and exhibits at the village showcase 4 periods of time for the Sottish Gaels. The first (1770s-1830s) covers the period of what life was like for them in Scotland. The second (17702-1850s) reveals how settled and adapted to a new life in Nova Scotia. The third (1850s-1880s) explores how their Gaelic communities grew and thrived in their new homeland. The fourth (1880s-1920s) shows how they lived with the outside world when many of their children began to leave.
You'll be able to visit buildings from these periods such as a blackhouse, a forge, a general store, a church, various dwellings, a sawmill and a carding mill. Animators will teach you some Gaelic phrases. They will also demonstrate spinning wool, weaving on traditional looms, blacksmithing, quilting as well as open-hearth cooking.
A Blackhouse is the traditional type of dwelling where the Scots would have lived in the Scottish Highlands. The walls were of stone with a thatched roof. The floor would have been packed earth and a hearth would have been in the middle of the house for cooking and heat.
The Blackhouse at the Highland Village is one of the 1st buildings you'll visit. Costumed animators inside the house will tell about how the Scots lived.
The kids will love the farm animals in the village. There are Soay Sheep, pigs, Highland Cattle and a Clydesdale Horse. All of these farm animals were central to the life of the Scots in Scotland and once they emigrated to Nova Scotia.
The white Pioneer Church has a central location at the top of the hill. It can be seen from a distance and is seen as a symbol of the village. Small concerts are held in the church throughout the season. Faith was a large of the Scots lifestyle and they brought it with them to the new home in Nova Scotia.
The Carding Mill at the village dates to 1883 and is still operational. After sheep were sheared the farmer would bring the wool to the Carding Mill. The milling process would then disentangle and clean the wool to make it ready for spinning and weaving. We were lucky to get a demonstration when we were there.
The Sawmill is also operational and we were treated to a demonstration as well. You can see a large piece of wood in the picture below. This was sliced into very thin sheets of shingles when we were there. The wood milled here is used throughout the village.
The views of the Bras d'Or lake from the Highland Village are exceptional. This area is one of the most scenic in Cape Breton. Make sure you take the time during your visit to stop and enjoy the view.
Do you have family ties to Cape Breton? The Genealogical Service at the Highland Village may be able to help you trace your ancestors. You can email the village at rootscapebreton(at)novascotia.ca for more information.
There are several annual events at the Highland Village:
The Waters of Iona Music Camp happens during the Celtic Colours International Music Festival in October.
The annual Highland Village Day in August continues to be a favourite summer event showcasing the traditional music, song and dance of Gaelic Nova Scotia.
Stòras a’ Bhaile is a four day Gaelic immersion folk-life school for advanced Nova Scotia Gaelic learners. It features the traditional foods, music, dance, stories and songs of Gaelic Nova Scotia.
Fiddlers might be present during your visit to the Highland Village. Fiddlers may also be present during your visit. We were treated to a fiddle tune by customed animators.
The Highland Village Museum is located in Iona, Cape Breton along the shores of the Bras d'Or Lake. It is 1 hour from the Canso Causeway, almost 4 hours from Halifax; 5.5 hours from the Digby ferry; about 6.5 hours from the Yarmouth ferry; and 3.5 hours from the Nova Scotia Visitor Information Centre in Amherst.
Location: 4119 Highway 223, Iona, Cape Breton.
Museum Hours: mid-May - mid-Oct - The museum is open every day from 9 to 5pm
Admittance Fee: There is an admittance fee to enter the museum. Admission for children 5 and under is free.
Services: Visitor information centre, gift shop, washrooms. The Visitor Information Centre is fully accessible. Some buildings are accessible. Ask about accessible parking when you arrive.
There is lots to see and do in Cape Breton. Check out the Fortress of Louisbourg in Louisbourg, the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck, The Miners Museum in Glace Bay, the Ceildih trail and the Cabot Trail. There are a multitude of hiking trails in the island and several whalewatching opportunities. The Celtic Shores Coastal trail and the Cabot Trail are perfect for cycling.
I have a great e-book called 44 Awesome Things to see on the Cabot Trail (+ 17 tips for along the way) that might interest you. This book is an awesome reference for touring the Cabot Trail. I include all of my favorite spots plus much more!
There are many possibilities when it comes to picking a place to stay on the island. There is a wide range of pricing and standards to choose from.
I always try to start with what I want to visit. Whether that be a couple of days around the Cabot Trail, a night in Baddeck or a few nights in Louisbourg.
There is a mix of small luxury hotels, resorts, inns, cottages, motels, bed & breadfasts, hostels and campgrounds. There is really something to fit everyone's pocketbook and need.
I wish I could say that I have visited them all and can make a good recommendation for each one but I can't!
I have partnered with Trip Advisor to help you find the best accommodations on the island.Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor about Cape Breton accommodations.
Nova Scotia has a wide variety of places to eat. From fine dining, family restaurants, pubs and pizza spots. There is something for everyone. I suggest you check my Where to Eat page for some tips on how to find a restaurant in your location.
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